Government at all levels in Australia continues to ignore the majority's desire for secularism in politics by reciting Christian prayers during parliamentary sessions. New research indicates this privilege is open to legal challenge.
Federal, state, and local governments continue to disrespect the beliefs of this nation’s majority by enforcing the outmoded ritual of reciting Christian prayers at every official meeting.
Campaigns over many years have argued for “equality and respect” in the amending of century-old regulations that sanction the saying of prayers in federal and state parliaments.
But new research may soon challenge this enduring Christian privilege.
"Governments have routinely ignored the 78 per cent of citizens who want to separate personal religion from the business of making social policy, and endorsing a single religion is as discriminatory as sexism, racism, or homophobia," said Peter Monk, president of the National Secular Lobby.
Evidence reveals that a majority of local governments continue to recite Christian prayers as part of their meetings – with some routinely including sermons up to ten minutes long.
Federal and state parliaments likewise refuse to end this archaic convention which contravenes foundational evidence that those who framed our constitution intended Australia to be secular.
"The Constitution prohibits laws for imposing religious observances at the federal level, yet parliament’s standing orders force people to participate in these religious practices,” Mr Monk said.
"It is purely due to a legal loophole -- that parliamentary standing orders are not technically ‘laws’ -- that prayers are allowed to remain and a constitutional breach is avoided.
"With all three tiers of government free to mandate Christian-only prayers, those of other religions – or no religion – continue to be disrespected by elected representatives.
"In the 2016 census, ‘No Religion’ was the largest category on the question of religious affiliation – a significant slice of the population that has been consistently ignored," he said.
Regular campaigns – and petitions directly to governments – have been made for the Christian privilege of saying prayers to be substituted with a ‘secular affirmation’ – a unifying statement that is agreeable to all faiths, and none.
This fair and equitable compromise has been routinely defeated. But research now reveals the arcane religious tradition can be legally challenged, initially at the local level.
In a new scholarly article in the Alternative Law Journal, Associate Professor Luke Beck, a constitutional law expert at Monash University and an ambassador for the National Secular Lobby, concludes that "the practice of local councils having religious prayers as part of the official proceedings of their meetings is unlawful."
"The powers granted by the Local Government Acts must be construed ‘so that they do not encroach upon fundamental rights and freedoms at common law’. One of those rights and freedoms is equality of religion," writes Dr Beck.
"Religious practices are necessarily exclusive: non-adherents, whether they be non-religious people or adherents of other religions, cannot participate in them on the same terms as adherents."
"The National Secular Lobby calls on representatives at all levels of government in Australia to better represent their multicultural and multi-faith constituencies by removing exclusionary and divisive prayers from their business of determining policy," Mr Monk said.